Why Software Development Environments are Important and How to Manage them Effectively
Software development environments can play a pivotal role in the speed, efficiency, and quality achieved by today’s programmers and testing teams. In this post, we look at the various tools and methodologies available to development teams, and we offer some practical guidance for optimizing the management of software development environments so they yield maximum benefits.
What is software development?
Software development is the process of building the code that powers our digital world. In essence, software is a set of instructions or programs that govern a system’s behavior. Software development includes the process of creating, designing, deploying, and supporting software. At a high level, there are four types of software:
- System software. This software equips a given device or system with core functions, such as the operating system, disk management, utilities, and hardware management.
- Programming software. This software equips programmers with key tools, such as text editors, compilers, linkers, debuggers, and other elements used to create code.
- Application software. This software helps users perform tasks. Examples include office apps, data management software, media players, security programs, and more. These applications may be run on a traditional computing system, over the web, or on mobile devices.
- Embedded software. This software is used to control machines other than traditional computers. This can include network devices, cars, robots, and so on.
Types of Software Development Methodologies
To be successful, software projects have to be managed well. Part of this effort requires selecting a software development methodology and then applying those principles effectively. Following are a few of the leading methodologies teams can choose from.
At a high level, the goal of agile is to enable the iteration of software, while minimizing the risk of those changes, including the potential for bugs being introduced, costs running over budget, and so on. Agile development can take many forms, including crystal, feature-driven development, and scrum. By employing agile, teams develop software in small increments, which can promote speed and flexibility. The downside is that agile can be fairly labor intensive, and can prove to be inefficient in large organizations.
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
Through SAFe, teams look to establish an organization and workflows that enable agile practices to achieve enterprise-level scale. This framework features a set of integrated principles, practices, and competencies. SAFe is built upon several disciplines, including agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking. SAFe is fairly rigid in nature, which means it can sometimes be difficult to apply to an organization’s specific personnel and requirements.
DevOps is more than a development methodology; it includes a set of practices that support the establishment of an effective organization and culture. With DevOps, the focus is on fostering enhanced collaboration between different departments, including development, QA, and operations. While DevOps can provide a variety of advantages, it can be problematic for a range of organizations. This is particularly true for organizations that are not well suited to having apps continuously updated. This can include companies with rigorous regulatory requirements and with customers that have constraints around update frequency.
Waterfall development follows a rigid, sequential process. Generally, the process follows these phases: requirements, design, implementation, verification, and maintenance. Each phase has a distinct objective, and each step must be completed entirely before moving to the next. In many organizations, this represents the traditional approach, so it is often comfortable and well understood for many team members. Because this method has a rigid structure and tight controls, it can lead to lengthy development cycles. In addition, it can be difficult for teams to adapt to changing requirements that may arise during development.
Rapid Application Development (RAD)
This approach shares some similarities with agile. This is a non-linear development approach that condenses design and code construction. RAD consists of four phases: requirements planning, user design, construction, and cutover. Design and construction are repeated until the user is satisfied. By implementing RAD, teams can realize both high quality and low cost. To be successful with RAD, development teams must be deeply skilled and knowledgeable in the application domain, which can be a challenge in many organizations.
What is a software development environment?
Fundamentally, a software development environment facilitates the development process. These environments provide developers with a workspace that features programming software and other resources and processes required to develop source code for an application.
The software development environment should encompass the complete set of hardware and software that are needed to create, manage, and maintain software throughout the software development lifecycle.
Within most organizations, teams establish different environments for development, testing, staging, and production. In this way, developers can create and innovate, without breaking anything in the production environment.
A complex set of components are required for each software development environment:
- A physical or virtual machine, including an underlying operating system, database system, and so on.
- Development tools, including development environments, compilers, and libraries.
- Data management solutions.
- Associated services, including internally hosted resources and external environments, such as those running in the cloud.
To be complete, software development environments must support these key efforts:
- Writing code
- Debugging and fixing bugs
- Running unit tests
- Pushing code to shared environments, where it is merged with other developers’ code
- Testing and validation of code once merged
Why Software Development Environments are Important
Quality software development environments can be invaluable for programmers, QA, DevOps teams, and others. These environments can play an essential role in supporting developer productivity and in enabling teams to ensure the quality of the software delivered.
A software development environment can play a big role in the stability, reliability, and ultimate success of a software offering. These environments:
- Play an integral role in software creation, management, and maintenance.
- Enable developers to do testing and verify that programs will function as expected.
- Help developers to make code changes in a controlled environment, without affecting users.
How does an integrated development environment differ from a software development environment?
While integrated development environments (IDEs) vary in their capabilities, in general, these offerings can be viewed as a type of a software development environment. IDEs bring together all the toolkits needed for a development platform.
IDEs bring processes and tools together in a coordinated way, providing developers with a unified interface for managing development processes, including writing, testing, and packaging code. Just as with software development environments, effective IDEs can help promote developer efficiency and productivity.
Selecting an IDE or Software Development Environment
Today, development teams have a broad range of IDEs and software development environments to choose from. In making this selection, teams should look for a solution that is well aligned with the type of app being developed, including relevant languages, platforms, deployments, devices, and so on. For example, a developer may want to create an app that can run on iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as via a web page. Teams would need an IDE that offers support for these platforms.
How Various IDEs Compare
In the table below, we’ve included a sampling of a range of IDEs and some of their key characteristics.
Key Considerations for Managing Software Development Environments
As outlined above, software development environments are composed of a complex set of elements. How do teams effectively manage these components, and do so efficiently and effectively to promote maximum speed and efficiency?
One key answer is by leveraging the power of automation and cloud services. As much as possible, teams need environments that fuel the automation of manual tasks, including efforts associated with development, testing, debugging, patching, and maintenance. By leveraging cloud services for such aspects as infrastructure and platform management, teams can gain advantages in such areas as agility, simplicity, and scalability.
It is also important that offerings enable the seamless operation of various environments, including development, testing, staging, and production, so teams can ensure high quality code gets released to production. In the following sections, we offer some key considerations for managing each of these environments most effectively.
Managing Development Environments
When it comes to managing development environments, it is vital to ensure associated services are available, accessible, and running properly. In addition, teams must ensure all dependencies and artifacts are installed, downloaded, and configured. This is particularly critical for many modern applications, which can feature many inter-dependencies. Following are some other key considerations:
- Folder permissions. Teams should ensure that the appropriate folder permissions have been established.
- Server and database communications. It is important to ensure communications between remote servers and database systems have been configured properly.
- Logging. In order to enable local debugging, teams should set up logging mechanisms.
- Integration testing. Every time new code is pushed to shared repositories, teams should consistently run integration tests to ensure changes don’t break the build.
In development environments, automation can be employed to assist with routine, ongoing efforts like environment set up and tear down. Adopting container-based approaches and orchestration tools, such as Docker and Kubernetes, can also help with streamlining coding and collaboration. Finally, teams should strive to maintain clear documentation and standardized configurations, while offering developers flexibility in experimentation and adaptation.
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Managing Test Environments
Testing environments play a critical role in the development lifecycle. The better these environments support testers in uncovering issues, the better equipped teams will be to ensure problems don’t arise in production environments. To maximize test coverage, it is essential to ensure environments are running correctly, including devices, servers, resources, networks, and so on. Look to employ checks at the API and user interface level, which can foster fast feedback.
The sooner issues are addressed in the development lifecycle, the better. Therefore, it’s vital to establish environments that foster fast, frequent, and automated tests. Following are a few options that can support these objectives:
- Automation. Wherever possible, use automation to remove, recycle, or refresh environments.
- Infrastructure as code. By leveraging infrastructure-as-code services, teams can more quickly provision and configure environments.
- Communication tools. Communication tools like Slack can be invaluable in automating notifications and test result distribution.
- Test data management solutions. Test data management solutions can be extremely useful as well. These solutions can provide new, refreshed, or masked test data when needed, which is an essential component of broad-based testing.
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Managing Staging Environments
Staging environments represent a vital arena for verifying code functionality before pushing to production. The main goal is to check software installations, configurations, and services before moving to production—and before users encounter issues.
To optimize efficacy, it is important to ensure staging mirrors the production environment to the greatest extent possible. Here are some additional considerations:
- Access control. It is important to establish mechanisms to ensure staging environments aren’t accessible to unauthorized users.
- Data security and privacy. Teams must apply a granular approach to data, ensuring sensitive records like customer data and other proprietary assets aren’t inadvertently exposed in staging environments.
- Monitoring. Just as with production environments, it is important to institute monitoring and alerting to ensure staging environments are performing consistently and optimally.
- Roll back. Teams should ensure mechanisms are in place so that, if issues arise after pushing new code to staging, they can quickly and effectively roll back to the prior version.
Managing Production Environments
When it comes to production environments, teams need to take extensive measures to ensure code is running smoothly and to maximize uptime and availability. Following are a few key requirements:
- Redundancy. Teams should institute redundancy in key processing systems in order to eliminate single points of failure. It is also important to establish disaster recovery systems in different regions to ensure business continuity in the wake of a catastrophic event.
- Access control. Because these systems will be managing live production data, it is critical to establish robust access controls and ensure the minimum number of administrators have privileged system access.
- Logging and monitoring. Teams must make it a priority to ensure logging, monitoring, and alerting systems are working correctly at all times.
Emerging Trends in Development
Today, a number of trends are emerging in the development arena. Promising innovations and approaches are being introduced that can provide teams with breakthrough advantages. Following are a few key trends.
Low-Code and No-Code Approaches
Solutions are emerging that provide a declarative, intuitive way to assemble components and build application logic. With these alternatives, individuals can create apps, without having expertise in any given programming language.
Organizations have been running applications in the cloud for some time, relying on services like AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Increasingly, these apps are being developed in innovative ways that most fully harness the unique advantages of cloud environments. Cloud-native apps are typically characterized by the use of such technologies as Docker containers, container orchestration tools like Kubernetes, continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) approaches, automation servers like Jenkins and Puppet, and so on.
In recent years, there has been a shift towards using cloud-based development environments, which can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. This makes it easier for developers to work on projects together, regardless of their location, and it can also provide access to powerful computing resources that may not be available on a local machine.
Cloud-based software development environments can provide fast, flexible, cost-efficient programming and ecosystem management. Increasingly, these cloud environments can support coding, design, integration, and testing. These environments can be accessed from any compatible device, requiring little or no downloading or installation of apps on the local machine. Through cloud-based operation, these solutions can foster easy collaboration among distributed development teams. At the same time, these centralized, cloud-based environments can help teams ensure robust safeguards are employed around source code and other intellectual property.
Within virtually every organization, development teams are coming under increased pressure to deliver quality, innovative software at a rapid rate. However, complex software development environments can make it increasingly difficult to meet these imperatives.
In fact, by one estimate, developers spend up to 40% of their time maintaining development environments. That means teams can only spend a little over half their time on improving code and developing innovative, revenue-generating features.
Now, DevZero offers teams a better approach. DevZero delivers on-demand, ephemeral, and ready-to-code development environments. With DevZero, every developer can quickly and easily build, share, and test code. DevZero offers these advantages:
- Teams can more consistently adhere to best practices for implementing software development environments, helping teams streamline programming workflows.
- Teams can establish more effective structures, more efficient workflows, and more advanced project management standards.
- By implementing optimized software development environments, teams can increase developer productivity and retention.
With DevZero, developers can create new environments by logging onto a console and choosing from various templates or creating their own templates. Whenever needed, developers can easily share their environments, so others can interact with services running on their templates.
To learn more, be sure to visit the DevZero product page.